Have Trump aides caught his exaggeration bug?


WASHINGTON: The administration officials who gave President Donald Trump’s tax plan a splashy debut in recent days seem to have caught the exaggeration bug from their boss.
A look at some statements by Trump and his aides over this past week, and the facts behind them:
TREASURY SECRETARY STEVE MNUCHIN, on Trump having “no intention” of releasing his own tax returns ever: “The president has released plenty of information and I think has given more financial disclosure than anybody else. I think the American population has plenty of information.”
THE FACTS: Trump has released less than other presidents in modern times.
By withholding his tax returns, Trump has fallen short of the standard followed by presidents since Richard Nixon started the practice in 1969.
During last year’s election campaign, Trump argued that he couldn’t release his taxes because he was under an audit by the IRS. That reason didn’t hold up, because being under audit is no legal bar to a candidate from releasing tax returns. On Wednesday, Mnuchin seemed to abandon even that explanation.
What Trump has released are financial disclosure forms that list his assets and liabilities in broad ranges, required by law. But those forms don’t disclose precise numbers, and they include nothing about a person’s income or charitable giving — data disclosed only in tax returns.
The few Trump tax returns the public has seen weren’t released by him, but disclosed by news outlets. Two leaked pages of his 2005 return that came out in March didn’t include full details on income and deductions, but did show that he would have benefited massively by an elimination of the alternative minimum tax — a feature of his just-outlined tax plan. And three pages that surfaced last year showed he had claimed a $916 million loss on his 1995 return, which could be used to reduce his taxes by offsetting later gains.
MNUCHIN: “This is going to be the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country.”
THE FACTS: Apparently not. At first blush, the tax cuts look smaller than President Ronald Reagan’s in 1981, which were the biggest ever. That plan reduced federal revenues by almost 19 percent, according to a Treasury report. In today’s dollars, that would mean a tax cut of more than $600 billion a year or well over $6 trillion over the next decade.
An early analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates federal revenue would probably drop $5.5 trillion over a decade under the Trump plan, shy of Reagan’s record-breaker. That assumes all elements of the plan are approved by Congress, which is unlikely.
The biggest-ever claim is also made on the one-page outline of the plan. Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn, more realistically, called it “one of the biggest.”
MNUCHIN: The tax plan “will pay for itself with growth,” reduced deductions and “closing loopholes.”
THE FACTS: Tax experts are skeptical, and they’re backed up by history.
Reagan’s steep cut in 1981 contributed to years of deficits, even after he was forced to raise some taxes in subsequent years to stem the red ink. President George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts were also followed by large deficits.
“No tax cut has ever been self-financing,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
In its analysis of the Trump plan, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said “no achievable amount of economic growth could finance it” and it would drive the debt to 111 percent of the gross domestic product by 2027, compared with 77 percent now. The group advocates for deficit reduction as a pillar of economic growth.
Alan Cole, an economist at the right-leaning Tax Foundation, has calculated that Trump’s corporate tax cut alone would cut federal revenue by $2 trillion over 10 years. Growth would need to accelerate to 2.8 percent a year, from its current pace of about 2 percent, to pay just for that cut. But Cole forecasts growth would increase by only half that amount, resulting in ballooning deficits.
COHN: “We are going to cut taxes for businesses to make them competitive and we’re going to cut taxes for the American people, especially low- and middle-income families.”
THE FACTS: Based on the outline, there’s every reason to believe the wealthiest people in the United States will receive the biggest cuts under Trump’s plan, though many low- and middle-income families would benefit, too.
The lack of specifics makes it hard to say precisely how the cuts would be distributed. But the plan is similar in outline to Trump’s campaign proposal, which would have given nearly half its benefits to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, while middle-income households would have received barely 7 percent of the cuts.
The White House is also proposing to eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, both of which primarily impact upper-income Americans. The AMT is a separate tax calculation inten